DURHAM — A student of history, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe knows that adversity can give way to extraordinary accomplishments. So with the Blue Devils facing their own minor depression, Cutcliffe turned to the history books to provide some inspiration for a team knocked off track by a 19-6 loss to its rival North Carolina on Saturday.
After a little research, he instructed his team that both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building were constructed during the Great Depression.
"Difficult times make you better," Cutcliffe said Tuesday. "That's the challenge we face this week."
For the Blue Devils (5-4, 3-2 ACC), the challenge revolves around recapturing the momentum cut short in Chapel Hill. With three regular-season games remaining Duke needs two more wins to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.
It's a challenge that starts Saturday with a home game against No. 7 Georgia Tech (9-1, 6-1), a team powered by a perplexing wishbone offense that averages 442.7 yards a game, including 314.9 yards on the ground.
Cutcliffe laid down the challenge at the end of Saturday's loss in Chapel Hill when he said Duke must find a way to bounce back with its best game of the season.
What might that look like?
"Not taking one play off," Duke junior linebacker Damian Thornton said. "Not having one mental lapse. Just doing what you got to do on every play.
"We can't relax for one second. Because that second we don't get the job done might be the play that wins the game."
Cutcliffe described a best game where all three units - offense, defense and special teams - produce points. He pointed to specific "must-have" areas where they fell short against the Tar Heels:
Duke's offense needs to convert a high rate of third-down plays.
Duke's offense needs to score 30 or more points.
Defenders can't miss tackles.
Duke needs to limit its penalties.
"If that takes that to beat Georgia Tech or not, I don't know," Cutcliffe said. "But I'd like to see us play our best game and see what we're capable of."
After watching film of their emotionally draining loss to the Heels, Duke players spent the last two days shaking off the disappointment.
"There are some things that make you kind of sick to your stomach," Duke sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Hill said. "You know that if you'd ... blocked a little longer, you could have broken one loose and gone for a touchdown."
Still, players say they have shifted focus to their next three games against Georgia Tech, Miami and Wake Forest, dismissing any notion that their season ended in Chapel Hill.
"It's not over until these next 12 quarters play out and the clock strikes zero-zero," Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said. "You can't base that on one game."
They know the task might seem difficult, but history has provided a blueprint.
As he ended his news conference, Cutcliffe said, "I'm going to go work on building the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge."
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